If a sparkling diamond is still a girl’s best friend, then a visit to North America’s diamond capital is definitely in the stars. Yellowknife, the capital of Canada’s Northwest Territories, is revered as the diamond capital of North America and is a lucrative mining region. And there are other glitzy things to do in Yellowknife that will grab your attention too!
It’s known as the “Land of the Midnight Sun” and the Aurora capital of North America. Both are wondrous spectacles one can observe seasonally.
The former happens in summer when 24 hours of daylight overtakes the Great White North while the latter is a natural celestial phenomenon of luminescent colours known as the Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis that paints the night sky and is best viewed during winter.
Don’t think the fun stops at night either.
By day, the city of Yellowknife turns into a vibrant hub. Locals and visitors mix and mingle at favourite watering holes.
Performers showcase original productions in the neatest venues and those trekkers in search of wanderlust are ready to depart this former outpost into the remotest regions imaginable.
Here’s a look at things to do in Yellowknife.
- 5 Things to do in Yellowknife during the day
- Things to do in Yellowknife at night
- Things to do in Yellowknife in winter
- Things to do near Yellowknife
5 Things to do in Yellowknife during the day
1- Join an artists workshop
Participate in a workshop at the Old Town Glassworks.
Owner Matthew Grogono saw discarded bottles strewn in the waste streams and took a negative (the garbage) and made it into a positive (original art) when he decided to open this decorative glassmaking business.
For a great souvenir, create a unique northern design and sandblast the pattern onto a drinking glass.
The Yellowknife Guilds of Arts and Crafts teaches crafts skills in various media such as stained glass, silver and clay.
Classes are for guild members only but membership is reasonable ($30 for adults) and class fees are extra.
Plan your visit during the Great Northern Arts Festival for more activities.
2- Play golf at the Yellowknife Golf Club
This 18-hole sand course that stretches over scenic rock known as the Yellowknife Golf Club is a public course with hazards and sharp doglegs.
The golf course established by golf lovers in 1948 who hauled an old DC-3 fuselage onto the rocky stretch for their clubhouse shows the ingenuity of the early days.
No need to worry about using a beat up old aircraft as a clubhouse as golfers will find a new clubhouse with food and bar service, pro shop, and golf cart rentals.
3- Join the fun at the Snowking Spring Carnival
It’s the old saying, “If you can’t beat’em, join’em” hardy folk there embrace the last of the snow blast in March with some well-earned festivals.
After the long winter, many come out to celebrate the Snow King festival at his snow castle.
Every March for the past 20 years, the SnowKing’s Castle is built on Yellowknife Bay.
Parents love it because it’s good family fun with lots of music, arts and outdoor activities. Artists love it because they get a chance to perform in a snow castle.
Wedding ceremonies are held at this unique venue, as are film nights, live music and events for kids. There’s even a Royal Ball.
4- Cheer on the sled dogs at the Yellowknife Dog Derby
Another crowd pleaser in March is the annual Yellowknife Dog Derby, a three-day 150-mile sled dog race on Great Slave Lake.
Watchdog teams fly out of the starting line at the 150-mile Canadian Championship Dog Derby in downtown Yellowknife at the end of March each year.
5- Explore the Old Town
Head to Old Town for a trip down memory lane as this area is rife with historic cabins and later climb the Bush Pilots’ Monument for a panoramic view of the picturesque Yellowknife Bay.
Inquire about Old Town tours at the Northern Frontier Visitors Centre (phone 867-873-4262).
Local guide Rosie with Strong Interpretation, a pre-packaged tour company, offers fascinating tours with such themes as “A Walk in the Past,” “Land of Little Sticks,” and “Shopping in the Boreal Forest.”
Visitors can also download a free guide “Old Town: Heritage Walking Tour of Yellowknife” for a self-guided walking tour.
6- Explore the outdoors while cycling or hiking
Whatever your interest, the sky’s the limit when it comes to outdoor fun.
The dilemma is settling on one adventure choice with all the selection.
In summer popular excursions include cycling, ATV-ing and hiking.
Things to do in Yellowknife at night
7- See the Aurora Borealis
Get ready for the dance of the Northern Lights. The sky is clear at first.
Then bands of green and red light start stretching across the sky, separating and coming together like lovers in a warm embrace.
Welcome to the Aurora Borealis, the best natural light show north of the 60th parallel.
The Northwest Territories sits directly beneath the Auroral oval.
On a clear winter night, there’s a strong chance of seeing the dance of the northern lights.
Cast your eyes toward the heavens and look for signs that the northern lights are coming out to play.
You need clear skies to see them and the best tip is to avoid street lights and head out of the city.
Going on a Yellowknife Aurora tour with a tour company like Northstar Adventures, a local Aboriginal-owned company, is a fantastic experience.
Northstar takes small groups to hunt for the Northern Lights and has winter clothing rental if you’re not warm enough.
Meet Joe, the original Aurora Hunter, who is considered one of the best Aurora guides around.
8- Drink beer at a Yellowknife pub
Pub life is popular.
The Black Knight bills itself as the only Scottish-style pub in the north.
It’s one of those rare places in town that serves Guinness beer on tap and arguably has the biggest whisky selection around.
The Gold Range Bar is legendary.
The famous watering hole has been immortalized by writers like Canadian best-selling author Mordecai Richler.
Listen to live music and try the two-step dance.
9- Dine on bison at the Wild Cat Cafe
With around 20,000 residents, Yellowknife is full of quirky culture and colourful characters.
There are quirky street names such as Ragged Ass Road and eateries such as The Wildcat Café and Dancing Moose.
An essential part of Northern Canadian history, The Wildcat Café was originally founded in 1937 when coffee was a dime and bacon and eggs were a buck.
Legend has it that Ragged Ass Road, the most famous street in Yellowknife, was named by a group of drinking miners one night.
Check out the old-timey resto that’s been serving prospectors and those with gold fever in their veins since the thirties.
Here’s your chance to bite into a cheddar cheese bison burger with all the helpings or order the local fish of the day.
10- Play a round of moonlight golf
Golfers are anticipating the upcoming 2015 Canadian North Midnight Sun Golf Classic scheduled on June 19-20, the longest days of the year.
It’s midnight madness at the Yellowknife Golf Club during the summer solstice.
The tournament starts at 6 pm and gets really interesting at midnight (Midnight Sun) when the two nine-hole shotgun starts.
Things to do in Yellowknife in winter
Local tourism operators can take you by dogsled or snowmobile to a cabin or camp that offers an unobstructed view.
11- Join the fun at the Polar Pond Hockey
Did I really just see Big Bird and his family play hockey on an outdoor rink in the Northwest Territories?
I would’ve rubbed my eyes in disbelief except that I’m wearing mittens.
Turns out that every March, teams of players from around the region converge on the community of Hay River for a Polar Pond Hockey tournament.
Some participants arrive in costume.
From pushing pucks while dressed as a teacup to running a dog team down a wooded trail, northerners have perfected the art of playing in the snow in a place where there’s white stuff on the ground for seven or eight months of the year.
Yes, winter really can be fun, especially in the north.
12- Soak in a hot tub at Blachford Lake Lodge
Sit in a hot tub at Blachford Lake Lodge a half hour from Yellowknife and admire the view.
Then bundle up and head outside.
13- Dogsledding: Hitch up the Huskies
At Beck’s Kennels in Yellowknife, the cacophony of canines in the yard fill my ears as about 150 dogs bark “Pick me! Pick me!”
Every husky wants to be hitched up to a sled and go for a run.
It’s in their genes.
Some of them stand on top of their doghouses to put them at eye level as if it might increase their chances of getting picked.
But only a few will get chosen this time.
Then silence descends as soon as the dogs have been chosen and the teams have departed.
The only sound is of the sled runners scraping along the snow as the parade of paws runs down wooded trails.
Dog teams were once used as the main form of transportation to haul fish and furs, people and goods.
Tour operators in Yellowknife, Hay River and Inuvik offer packages of anywhere from a half hour dog sled ride to an overnight trip where you’re driving your own team.
14- Snowmobiling: Zoom down the trail
The first time that I rode on the back of a snowmobile, we were going up and down enough hills that I could probably be forgiven if I thought I was riding a bucking bronco.
My second trip, which was with Arctic Chalet, took us from the town of Inuvik.
We travelled across the frozen tundra to see Canada’s only semi-domesticated reindeer herd.
The ride was almost as smooth as a glassy lake on an autumn day.
And, yes, the reindeer were breathtaking to watch.
You can also ride onto the ice in a Bombardier with Great Slave Lake Tours to learn about the commercial fishery.
15- Skiing: Let it glide
Who knew there were three ways to cross-country ski?
Glide along groomed trails at ski clubs in Yellowknife, Fort Smith and Inuvik.
Participate in the 27.5-kilometre Thebacha Loppet, the oldest one in Western Canada.
It’s held each March along old portage trails that fur traders once used along the Slave River from Fort Fitzgerald to Fort Smith.
If you’re a good skier, try skijoring with White Huskies in Inuvik.
Strap on a pair of skis and let a pair of huskies pull you along.
Or let yourself be carried by the wind on Great Slave Lake with Yellowknife’s Aquilon Power Kite.
The company offers kite skiing lessons.
Strap on a pair of skis or a snowboard and get tethered to a kite.
Then learn to steer and control the power of the wind.
If you aren’t comfortable on skis or a snowboard, climb into a buggy that has three skis and is pulled by a kite.
Then relax and enjoy the power of the wind.
16- Go fishing on Great Slave Lake
I’m standing on Great Slave Lake trying not to dance around as I push the auger deeper into the ice beneath my feet.
In a few hours, tents will start popping up and more holes will be dug.
Every year, as winter pulls into spring, communities across the Northwest Territories hold fishing derbies.
Participants dangle a line beneath the ice, grab a seat and wait.
With any luck, they will enjoy the slow excitement of pulling fish from the depths of a frozen lake.
The winner is the person who catches the biggest fish.
Things to do near Yellowknife
Muskrat Hamboree in Inuvik
At the Muskrat Jamboree in Inuvik, teams of four are lining up on the ice beside the Mackenzie River to walk the plank. It’s not what you think.
Amid shouts of “Right. Left. Right. Left,” teams of four try to glide forward in unison on a piece of wood as they race to the finish line.
Other events include log sawing, the harpoon throw and a trapper skills competition that includes getting wood, making a fire, chiselling ice, making tea and bannock, skinning and stretching a muskrat.